Kandinsky, the Forefather of Modern Art

Angela Lampe, lead curator at Centre Pompidou, discusses the painter's changing legacy

Centre Pompidou

Untitled (1913) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

Art history remembers the role Kandinsky played in the invention of abstraction with an initial abstract watercolor (antedated) from 1910.

This role, in which he claimed great importance, has since been put into perspective by the rediscovery of Swedish artist Hilma af Klint, who started painting large abstract pictures in 1906, and by the debates around Picabia, Delaunay, Kupka, and Malevich.

Angela Lampe presentation
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Here, Angela Lampe, the Lead Curator at the Centre Pompidou, gives her thoughts on the changing legacy of Vassily Kandinsky.

Angela LampeCentre Pompidou

Centre Pompidou

How does Kandinsky's legacy stand today?

Angela Lampe

"After his death in 1944 and at the end of World War Two, Kandinsky's legacy was mainly promoted by his widow Nina and by the Prix Kandinsky launched in 1946 by herself and critics Charles Estienne and Léon Degand."

Frotissance (1946) by Georges MathieuCentre Pompidou

"We have found during these years a more or less direct connection with the generation who knew Kandinsky in Paris, like Georges Mathieu, who introduced the term "lyrical abstraction"." 

"Others like Hans Hartung and Jean Messagier, who returned to a non-objective language, entirely in rhythms and forms, which was inspired by Kandinsky's "dramatic period" that was seen in Paris at that time." 

Über Das Geistige in der Kunst (Of the Spiritual in Art) Über Das Geistige in der Kunst (Of the Spiritual in Art) (1912) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

"Kandinsky's legacy is definitely wider and spread across domains outside his work. It is somewhat associated with his way of opening up the field of pictorial art to other mediums like music, poetry, and performing arts..."

"...and to the concept of permeability of the arts through a spiritual dimension that allows them to be connected."

"His early writings on modernity, with this demonstrated need to theorize art, also flourished, particularly with the translation of Concerning the Spiritual in Art in July 1912 in the United States in Alfred Stieglitz's journal."

Impression V (Park) (1911) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

Centre Pompidou

If modern artists claim to adhere to the identifiable gesture and to the stroke of genius of Marcel Duchamp's Readymade, there is no obvious reference to Kandinsky. Did Kandinsky play a part in modern practices?

Angela Lampe

"Kandinsky is the one who opened up the scope of possibilities. He set the tone to stay in his own musical world. His synesthetic experimentation, his compositions for the stage like Yellow Sound, among abstract forms and scores, evoke vibrations, certain types of sound..."

"...and also a particular grammar, that were seized upon by the pioneers of abstract film in the 1920s, like Viking Eggeling, Hans Richter, and Walter Ruttmann."

Model of Pannel for the Exhibit of Juryfreie: Wall A (1922) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

"During the 1960s, the approach of Californian filmmaker Kenneth Anger, who created a psychedelic esthetic that mixed the spiritual dimension, music, pop, mysticism, and painting, is especially close to the esthetic developed by Kandinsky."

"Kandinsky's deeply experimental approach to form recurs today in a diluted way with new media, performance, and installations. It cannot be called a direct connection, but his concept of a total art paved the way for the arts in the 20th and 21st centuries."

"He is the pioneer of a multidisciplinary approach to art, yet also to a new synthesis of the arts, one of his struggles which remains underestimated and which started with The Blue Rider Almanac published in 1912."

Cover of Der Blaue Reiter Almanach (1912) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

Centre Pompidou

What is the singular and prophetic contribution of this Almanac?

Angela Lampe

"By turning the pages of this chronicle of modern art of the time, the reader discovers images that are as diverse as a Japanese wash painting opposite a bull painted by Franz Marc, Bavarian votive paintings following a Henri Matisse picture..."

Page of the Blaue Reiter Almanach by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

"...or an arrangement of figures from Egyptian shadow theater and from popular Russian engravings, not forgetting reproductions of sculptures from Easter Island or Cameroon, and of Brazilian masks."

Page of the Blaue Reiter Almanach by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

"By immersing oneself in this extensive visual dialog, without any boundaries of class or hierarchy, Kandinsky hoped that the reader would "feel many vibrations" but easily grasp the central aim of this synoptic book."

Gelb-Rot-Blau (Yellow-Red-Blue) (1925) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

"An aim that he expressed as follows: "The question of art would not be a question of form, but rather of artistic content." The genius of Kandinsky was to invalidate the question of form."

"Beyond their apparent differences and their diverse geographic origins, there is a fundamental relationship between authentic works, sometimes defined by the principle of an "internal necessity", sometimes by an inwardness whose spiritual dimension allows the arts to connect."

Orientalisches (Oriental) (1911) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

"Kandinsky broke dogmas and opened his eyes to diversity. For instance, he also works on the concept of kitsch. He looked at everything with the same curiosity and the same respect."

"He was interested as much in popular arts, as in arts from outside the Western world, and formal theater research, research adapted by others from the 1920s to the present day."

Zartes Gelb (Tender Yellow) (1927-11) by Kandinsky, VassilyCentre Pompidou

"What matters to him is creating collections and analogies that according to him represent a transcendence of the materialist world."

"Beyond the divisions, this dialog of all the arts that attests to Kandinsky's humanist approach is without a doubt what underscores the legacy that he has left: belief in the vitality of universal art."

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